In Chapter 4 of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the author continues to use color imagery to symbolize ideas, emotions, and themes. The dominant colors in this chapter are yellow, gold, and white, which represent wealth, luxury, and purity.
Overview of Color Imagery
Throughout The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald uses colors to represent abstract concepts and emotions. Here are some of the main colors and their symbolic meanings:
|Green||Hope, renewal, money, envy|
|Yellow||Moral decay, death, corruption|
|Gold||Wealth, luxury, gaudiness|
|Blue||Dreams, fantasy, distance|
|Gray||Boredom, stagnation, dreariness|
In Chapter 4, the dominant colors are yellow, gold, and white. Let’s examine how Fitzgerald uses these colors to convey deeper meaning.
Yellow and Gold
The colors yellow and gold are everywhere in Chapter 4, which takes place at one of Gatsby’s lavish parties. The first obvious mention is the actual color of Gatsby’s house during the party:
The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word.
The yellow cocktail music sets the tone for the decadence and moral decay of the party. The house is filled with drunken gaiety, cheating spouses, and empty chatter. Yellow symbolizes the moral emptiness beneath the flashy exterior.
Additionally, Jordan Baker, who wears white in the earlier chapters, now wears “a slender golden arm” showing she too has been corrupted:
Under the dripping bare lilac-trees a large open car was coming up the drive. It stopped. Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan, got out expeditiously, putting on a white silk muffler he took from his pocket. The girl who had entered looked around pleasantly – she was Miss Baker.
Jordan Baker mingles easily with the wealthy people at Gatsby’s party and fits right in, showing her lack of proper morals. Her golden arm imagery echoes the gaudy decadence of the party.
Later, the narrator Nick Carraway describes the “women’s faces [that] floated like bright moths toward the dry heat” of Gatsby’s candlelit tables. The floating yellow moths epitomize the dreamy, decadent allure of Gatsby’s glittering parties.
In general, yellow symbolizes the moral decay beneath the facade of fun and extravagance. The yellow imagery reflects the emptiness of the wealthy elite who party at Gatsby’s house.
Gold and White
In contrast to the symbolism of yellow, gold and white together represent wealth and luxury, particularly new money. When Nick arrives at the party, he describes the spectacular scene:
In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars…On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold.
The glistening hors d’oeuvres and bewitched baked hams symbolize the enchanting appeal of wealth. However, their flashy newness also shows the gaudiness of the newly rich like Gatsby trying to impress others.
Later, Jordan Baker wears a dress of white and gold, perfectly blending innocence and luxury:
Dressed in white flannels, with a silver belt buckled at her tiny waist, she was the most elegant little person I had ever seen. When we sat down she tipped back her chair into a bright patch of sunlight and let loose a stream of high cheerful notes into the air.
Jordan appears elegant and carefree, comfortably embodying the white and gold aura of Gatsby’s parties. Her white dress represents purity and innocence, contrasting with the yellow moral decay around her. Overall, the white and gold symbolize the alluring splendor and wealth that Gatsby uses to impress Daisy and other partygoers.
In addition to representing Jordan’s innocence, the color white in Chapter 4 is associated with Daisy. When Nick finally reunites Gatsby and Daisy, he brings her over to Gatsby’s house:
She turned her head as there was a light, dignified knocking at the front door. I went out and opened it. Gatsby, pale as death, with his hands plunged like weights in his coat pockets, was standing in a puddle of water glaring tragically into my eyes.
Gatsby’s pale appearance symbolizes his nerves as he prepares to reunite with his lost love Daisy. The white of his skin represents the purity of his dream of Daisy. This dream has remained untouched by reality for five years, sustained by Gatsby’s singular focus on winning Daisy back.
Later, when Daisy weeps over Gatsby’s collection of shirts, she buries her head in the shirts, in a white veil of fabric:
Suddenly with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily.
The white shirts represent Gatsby’s pure devotion to her, unsullied by their years apart. Hidden in the white veil of shirts, Daisy is regaining that innocence and purity symbolized by white. For a moment, their dream is renewed and uncorrupted by time.
In summary, Fitzgerald uses yellow to symbolize the moral emptiness and decay beneath the lavish facade of Gatsby’s parties. Gold represents the gaudy splendor of new wealth, while white symbolizes purity and innocence of Gatsby’s devotion to Daisy. The colors help convey themes of illusion vs. reality, new money vs. old money, and the reckless pursuit of pleasure in the jazz age. Color imagery continues to play an important role throughout the remaining chapters of the novel.
The Great Gatsby makes excellent use of color symbolism to deepen its exploration of 1920s wealth and excess. Fitzgerald deftly wields colors to layer in symbolic meanings that enrich the story’s themes and character development.